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NBA Saturday: LaVar Ball Isn’t As Crazy As He Seems

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So, you want to be a baller?

If so, LaVar Ball has the shoe for you.

Lonzo Ball, a projected top-three NBA draft pick, announced the release of his first signature shoe, the ZO2, on Thursday afternoon. Independent from any major shoe company, the ZO2 will be released under his father’s “Big Baller Brand” line.

There’s just one catch; the shoe costs $495.

Just to put the shoe price into perspective a bit, LeBron James’ debut kicks — the Nike Air Zoom Generation — released in 2003, and they were priced at a reasonable $110. Michael Jordan, the gold standard of basketball sneakers, released his Air Jordan’s with Nike in 1985 for $65 ($147 with 2017 adjusted inflation).

Kobe Bryant didn’t even get his own signature shoe until his second season in the NBA when the Adidas KB8 debuted.

With every major shoe company spurning Ball and his father reportedly because the duo (mainly LaVar) was insisting on a co-branding opportunity for the “BBB,” the elder Ball pulled an unprecedented move by creating an independent signature shoe for his son. But the biggest surprise is the price tag, which is greater than the combination of buying the latest version of James’, Kevin Durant’s, and Steph Curry’s signature models.

While this may seem like an absolute trainwreck of a situation, LaVar may actually be executing one of the best marketing strategies in basketball shoe history.

In an era where advertising is king — Nike alone spent $3.3 billion last year in direct-to-customer marketing, brand events, and sports marketing — LaVar’s name was the number one trend on Twitter, and Big Baller Brand was fourth, just five hours after the ZO2 announcement hit social media. And in terms of marketing, that didn’t cost a penny.

Back in March, USA Today did an interview with the Balls where they discussed their controversial brand idea. LaVar lent some insight to his trailblazing perspective of independent branding.

“That Big Baller Brand,” LaVar said. “A brand is one of the biggest things you can have. And, what happens is, it’s hard work to attain it, so nobody wants to attain it. Not too many people think that far ahead.”

While the bill for the ZO2 may be steep, with LaVar’s exuberant personality and outspoken strategy, some people will purchase the shoe. In fact, Nicekicks.com did some digging on the first day of release and reported that at least 210 pairs of the ZO2, and the ZO2: WET, an autographed version of the shoe priced at $995, sold within the first 24 hours of availability.

All in all, that equates to $157,685 in shoe sales within the first day. While those sales numbers aren’t breaking any records — Nike sold 446,000 pairs of Air Jordans in the first month, grossing $66 million equated to today’s inflation, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell — to independently gross that amount without any marketing besides a release video and a couple of tweets is impressive.

Plus, at such a high price, it would take fewer sales to turn high grossing revenue.

What the Big Baller Brand’s success really hinges on, however, is the success of Lonzo’s NBA career. Currently, Lonzo is projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA draft by DraftExpress.com. Should the UCLA product burst onto the pro basketball scene in the same way he did the college basketball scene, his signature shoe would presumably only increase in popularity and value.

When asked on ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard Show about the price of the shoe, LaVar got right to the point.

“I figure that’s what the shoe is worth. When you are your own owner you can come up with any price you want,” he said.

One step further, in the face of internet criticism, the “Big Baller” himself took to Twitter to deliver a message about his creation’s availability:

Another 22 thousand retweets of free publicity.

In a year’s time, LaVar and his brand went from a relative unknown to plastered all over the internet. By making his outlandish comments across sports debate shows, which include his claim that he could beat Jordan in a game of one-on-one, LaVar has shown the ability to attract eyeballs.

With social media’s prominence in 2017, free marketing and all the eyeballs you could want are there for the taking.

So, should Lonzo take the NBA by storm and the ZO2 takes flight from the internet to shoe store shelves across America, LaVar could effectively rewrite the book on brand marketing.

Going rogue from a major shoe company to begin a career in basketball is unchartered waters for a player as distinguished as Lonzo. But, as LaVar himself has said before, “Hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

While the ZO2 price may be crazy, LaVar is making calculated moves that aren’t quite as crazy as they may seem.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Dennis Chambers

Dennis Chambers

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.